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Vaclav Havel (left) with a longtime Belarusian opposition leader, Ales Milinkevich (center), during a meeting in Prague.
PRAGUE -- In one of his last public messages before his death on December 18, longtime dissident writer and former Czech President Vaclav Havel expressed solidarity with political prisoners in Belarus.

In a message given to RFE/RL's Belarus Service ahead of the one-year anniversary of a disputed presidential vote and resulting protests in Minsk, Havel's message was addressed to jailed presidential candidates Andrey Sannikau and Mikalay Statkevich and other opposition figures imprisoned during the crackdown.

"I will continue to use any opportunity in the future, together with my friends, to draw the international community's attention to the violations of basic civic rights in Belarus," Havel said in the letter.

Havel frequently spoke out against the postelection crackdown in Belarus and was a long-standing proponent of human rights and greater political freedoms in that country.

"I wish you all the best and freedom for your country," said Havel, one of the most powerful moral authorities of his generation in the former Soviet bloc and around the world.

An outpouring of tributes to Havel have flowed in since news of his death, with a state funeral tentative planned for December 23.

Critics of Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka's regime were planning events aimed at circumventing official strictures on dissent as the anniversary of the election approached.

The year has seen roundups and raids, punitive measures against defense lawyers of government opponents, and lengthy prison sentences for leading anti-Lukashenka voices in Belarus.
Killed Journalist Buried In Daghestan
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A gunman has shot dead a prominent journalist in Daghestan, the latest murder of a leading public figure in the troubled Russian Caucasus region.
Khadzhimurad Kamalov, the editor and publisher of the Daghestan weekly newspaper "Chernovik," was killed last night outside the newspaper's office in the city of Makhachkala.
Kamalov's newspaper has reported extensively on police abuses in the fight against an Islamist insurgency originating in neighboring Chechnya that has spread across the Caucasus.
Daghestani President Magomedsalam Magomedov, speaking in Makhachkala, called the killing "a great loss."
Rights activist Tanya Lokshina, from the Moscow office of Human Rights Watch, said the killing was "payback" for journalistic work in the region.

"The North Caucasus is one of the most dangerous places in the world for journalists to work. And in past few years, many independent journalists, citizens and activists have died -- died as payback for their work in the North Caucasus," Lokshina said.

And therefore, everything that's happened, everything that happened with Kamalov, it's on one side a horrible shock, but on the other side, it was almost even expected."
Rights group Amnesty International in a statement called the killing "terrible" and called on Russia to act to protect journalists in Daghestan.
The OSCE condemned the killing and urged authorities to protect journalists. The pan-European rights watchdog's media representiative, Dunja Mijatovic (eds: a woman) said she was "alarmed" by the murder.
with agency reports

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"Watchdog" is a blog with a singular mission -- to monitor the latest developments concerning human rights, civil society, and press freedom. We'll pay particular attention to reports concerning countries in RFE/RL's broadcast region.


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